Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
A roundup of the best stories on cities and urbanism we've come across in the past seven days.
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“Urban Explorers Risking Lives and Arrest for Social Media Glory, Say Experts,” David Batty, The Guardian
A rising number of daredevil stunts such as scaling skyscrapers and parachuting from tall structures is being fuelled by competition for online acclaim, according to “urban explorers”, who warn more people are dying as a result.
The immense popularity of online videos of people climbing the world’s tallest buildings, including the London Shard, had turned urban exploration, which traditionally involves surreptitiously exploring the off-limits corners of towns and cities, into an extreme sport, said academics from Southampton and Greenwich universities.
Their comments come after a court barred four men from scaling structures in England and Wales after they posted online photographs and videos of themselves hanging 15 storeys above ground from a building in Lowestoft; climbing a crane in the town centre; and parachuting from a wind turbine.
A Suffolk police spokesman said officers had no alternative but to take action as they could have fallen and not only killed themselves but passersby. “Evidence gathered by police showed they had repeatedly carried out the activity and had been posting footage on the internet,” he added.
“One Chinese Architect's Quest to Easternize American Cities,” Diana Budds, Fast Co.Design
At just 40 years old, architect Ma Yansong has made a mark for himself in his native China through wildly adventurous buildings, such as residential complexes that mimic the look of a hilly horizon, sinuous museums, and skyscrapers that subvert the Miesian box.
Rooted in the spirituality of the natural world, his structures seek to evoke visceral reactions from the people who step inside them or see them from afar. Now, the architect—a member of Fast Company's Most Creative People list—is eager to bring his approach stateside and has projects underway across the country: a residential complex in Beverly Hills, the controversial George Lucas Museum in Chicago, and a yet-to-be revealed residential high-rise in New York.
A protégé of Zaha Hadid, Yansong opened his firm, MAD, in 2004. Since then he's designed residential towers, master plans, museums, opera houses, and hotels. His staff has expanded to 80 in Beijing, 10 in Los Angeles, and he's soon to open a New York City outpost. In his manifesto Shanshui City (Lars Müller, 2015), Yansong writes: "The future development of society demands that we reconsider the relationship between humanity and nature. We must carefully reevaluate our experience of an industrial civilization that forfeited our natural environment. We have to find a new path, one that restores a sense of harmony and balance to our relationship with the natural world."
Is the West ready for an influx of Eastern philosophy? Yansong offers compelling reasons why.
“A Sinking Jail: The Environmental Disaster That Is Rikers Island,” Raven Rakia, Grist
There’s a known stench on Rikers Island in the New York summertime. Neither the people incarcerated there, nor the correction officers working there, can escape it. “The smell alone would torture you,” says Candie Hailey-Means, who was incarcerated at Rikers until May 2015. “It smells like sewer, mixed with fertilizer, mixed with death.”
Hailey-Means was sent to Rikers on Feb. 22, 2012, when she was 28 years old. Six weeks after her arrival, Hailey-Means was sent to solitary confinement after an incident with one of the guards. (Hailey-Means says the guard assaulted her but she was written up for assaulting the guard.) She spent two years and three months in solitary, locked in a 6-by-10-foot cell for 23 to 24 hours a day. A small slot in the door, where she would receive meals, was her only connection to the outside world.
Hailey-Means’ mental and physical health quickly deteriorated. Her treatment by guards and the intolerable conditions in solitary confinement — complete isolation, extreme temperatures, polluted air, the stink of the landfill — led Candie to try to take her own life. About two weeks after being locked in “the bing” (the colloquial term for solitary), Hailey-Means first tried to drown herself in her toilet bowl. The suicide attempts continued from there: swallowing Nair, saving medication for a week to take all at once, cutting her wrists. There were more than eight attempts in total.
“Crane Operators Are Sky-High Stars in NY Construction Boom,” Verena Dobnik, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Tommy Gambardella is a master of New York's construction universe.
Each morning before dawn, he rides an elevator more than 50 stories up the side of a skyscraper growing on Manhattan's West Side. Then, he steps out onto a narrow walkway with a drop-dead view of the city below and mounts some spiral steps into the glass control cab of a tower crane.
There, he's alone, in silence.
From high in the sky, he can see the sun light up Manhattan all the way to the harbor and the Statue of Liberty. He wraps his fingers around two joysticks to bring the crane alive.
Gambardella, 49, is at the helm of one of the giant tower cranes sprouting across the city, a prime force in a building boom that is changing New York's skyline. It can be dangerous work — a fact hammered home by several deadly accidents in recent years.
"Is it a thrill? I love it. I love it. I absolutely love it," he says after climbing from the translucent fishbowl of his control cab, atop what will be a 65-story apartment tower. "But you need to have a little more nerve than the average human being, and be a little crazy."
“Will the Los Angeles River Become a Playground for the Rich?” Richard Kreitner, The Nation
In the early 13th century, a wealthy merchant’s son knelt before a crucifix in a small, crumbling chapel near Assisi, a village in Italy, and received a message from the Lord: “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” Taking the message literally, Francis began gathering stones to fix up the dilapidated structure and two others nearby. Some time later, while praying in one of those smaller chapels—Our Lady of the Angels, or the Porziuncola (meaning “little portion”)—he received a further revelation: that only the poor were true Christians. Francis gave away his remaining possessions and began preaching the sanctity of humility, poverty, and peace. Legend has it that a few years later, on August 2, 1216, he received a special indulgence from Pope Honorius III: unconditional absolution for anyone who visited the Porziuncola on that date in the future.
Half a millennium later, an expedition of soldiers and Franciscan friars marched north from Spain’s colony in Mexico to establish a military outpost on Monterey Bay, in modern-day California. A few weeks into the trip, on August 2, 1769, the group camped beside a “good-sized, full-flowing river,” Father Juan Crespí wrote in his journal, “with very good water, pure and fresh.” They named this “lush and pleasing spot” Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula—Our Lady, Queen of the Angels, at the Porciúncula River—after the holy day they had just celebrated. It was “a most beautiful garden,” Crespí observed, with “all the requisites for a large settlement.”